Cot death specialist honoured

By Martin Johnston

Medal awarded to doctor credited with saving thousands of babies through research.

The award given to Professor Ed Mitchell acknowledges outstanding contributions to paediatrics and child health. Photo / Getty Images
The award given to Professor Ed Mitchell acknowledges outstanding contributions to paediatrics and child health. Photo / Getty Images

A leading researcher credited with helping to save thousands of babies from cot death has been honoured by his medical college.

Professor Ed Mitchell, the Cure Kids professor of child health at Auckland University, received the Howard Williams Medal from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians at a conference in Melbourne.

The medal acknowledges outstanding contributions to paediatrics and child health.

"It is a fantastic honour to be recognised by my peers and a tribute to the wonderful group of people I have had the privilege of working with over the years," Professor Mitchell said.

In a lecture to the conference - the International Congress of Paediatrics - Professor Mitchell said sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was preventable by using current knowledge.

In the New Zealand Medical Journal he and a colleague argued more lives could be saved if more attention was given to the risks of bed-sharing with infants.

Professor Mitchell, a paediatrician and epidemiologist, was one of the researchers in the seminal New Zealand cot death study.

Professor Ed Mitchell.
Professor Ed Mitchell.

Conducted from 1987 to 1990, the study identified that babies were at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) if they were put to sleep on their front, they were not breast-fed or if the mother smoked.

The resulting "back-to-sleep" programme dramatically reduced New Zealand's rate of SIDS, which had been one of the highest in developed countries.

The college's head of paediatrics and child health, Professor Susan Moloney, hailed Professor Mitchell's dedication and highlighted his achievements in SIDS and child asthma. She said he had received international recognition for his SIDS work, which had led to the prevention programme in 1991, "which reduced SIDS deaths in New Zealand from 250 a year to 60".

The Ministry of Health's chief adviser on child and youth health, Pat Tuohy, said Professor Mitchell's award was "well deserved".

"Within a year [of the SIDS prevention programme starting] it reduced our death rate by about 25 per cent, which is outstanding.

"Over the last 20 years, thousands of New Zealand children are alive today that would not have been alive had we not implemented the results of the research."

It has been calculated that his work saved more than 3000 New Zealanders' lives from 1990 to 2008.

Safe sleep

The Ministry of Health recommends:
* Put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
* Ensure face is clear of bedding and don't use pillows or loose blankets.
* Baby should sleep in own bed or in pepipod in the parental bedroom.
* Babies should not sleep in bed with another person.
* Don't smoke during pregnancy or around the baby.
* Breastfeed if possible.

- NZ Herald

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